Programming a robot to teach it how to efficiently package snacks or baked goods had traditionally been a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.

Now companies can reduce programming time for robots through digital twinning, which is a digital solution that implements programming changes in a cost-efficient manner prior to deployment into physical installations. 

“Digital twinning mitigates this by allowing programmers to simulate and test programming changes in the virtual environment before deploying them to physical robots,” said Felix Pang, robotic solutions specialist, ABI Ltd. “It enables faster, more cost-efficient deployment of robotic systems while ensuring reliability and performance in real-world applications.”

He pointed out scoring Old World breads and artisan rolls are among the most popular uses for ABI robotics. The company’s Katana Scoring System combines robotics and advanced vision systems to provide accurate, uniform scoring of dough pieces.

“Robotics are designed with the user experience so that it is easy for manufacturers to use the robot toolset for specific products,” Pang added. “With Katana, bakers can easily score new patterns and new products through the intuitive-user interface.”

Giorgio Calorio, sales account manager at Schubert North America, noted that 3D imaging has been a game changer for how robots and cobots perform, especially when it comes to handling delicate baked goods and providing the flexibility for picking and placing new products or packages of different shapes and sizes.

“Schubert PartBox digital warehouse 3D printing can be used for the direct manufacturing of new tools when new SKUs are needed,” he explained. “It all happens directly at a customer’s facility. Our engineering team designs new tools, uploads them on the virtual warehouse and then prints them. The full process is extremely simple and can be completed without even having Schubert technicians at the production plant.”

Joe Crompton, vice president of robot technology, BluePrint Automation, said 3D systems can gather more information about a product’s volume and shape as well as see a wider range of product colors.

Moreover, using AI can enhance a pick-and-place operation on more complex production lines.

“AI can specify and determine which robots should be picking which products on large systems to optimize the overall number of products picked,” he added. “This similarly applies to complex warehouse and case routing optimization on complex conveyor routing and distribution systems.”

He acknowledged, however, there are still challenges in dealing with new products and packaging. That’s where proper planning can pay off.

“Advances in vision systems as well as gripper technology have increased this flexibility, but it still pays to get product and container designers involved early in the specification and design of a packaging line to make sure to future-proof a new line as much as possible,” Crompton advised.

This article is an excerpt from the June 2024 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Robotics Packagingclick here.